Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chore time: When should my kids start doing their own laundry?

When my eldest (now 11) entered preschool at age 3, the school asked me to fill out a questionnaire.

On the sheet was the question:

"What chores does you child do during the day or week?"

My first thought was:

Are you kidding me - he is 3?

My second thought was:

Holy cow - he can do chores already? Awesome!

That DAY we started having him clear the plates after each meal, help load the silverware into the dishwasher, and help set the table.  It was easy.  He was eager to help as a "big" three-year old who was also recently a new big brother! He loved the new responsibility.

Children should take over responsibility for a chore, as soon as they are able to do them, whether it is laundry, making breakfast, packing their lunch, cleaning their room, or sweeping the patio.

When they are physically able to handle a broom, or tall enough to reach the kitchen sink - get them doing it.

I am not suggesting that you require they do these things, although you may want to and that is fine.  Rather I point out that you should teach them how, and help them to foster independence in doing them.  You may find that once they know how to do it, they want to do it.  

This post started, because last night before bed, Anthony (age 11) asked if I would move his laundry over before I went to bed "if I was still up when it beeped".  "Sure" I said.  I wasn't still up.  So he moved it over this morning.  No biggie.  I tossed in his next load this morning so that it will all be ready for him to fold tonight.   HE is the one with the ownership, the responsibility, the agency.  It is not my fault anymore if he runs out of socks.  He is the one who knows how many pair of socks he has left in the drawer.  It is freeing - to have just ONE less thing to worry about.  And today when he comes home he will actually be THANKFUL that I took care of his last load while he was at school.  Or maybe I am being optimistic.

Of course I still do mine/husband laundry or we tackle that on the weekend together.  I haven't yet moved into the realm of having them wash my unmentionables - that seems excessive - but no judging here if your kids do your laundry and that works for your family then great!

I still do the girls laundry and have them "help".  Here is how that works. We are blessed to have a front load washer and dryer.  Blessed (?) you say? Oh yes.  It means that even little Anna (age 2) can put her clothes or sheets into the washer.  She can also move them over to the dryer.  And that is how it starts.  Baby steps literally.  They get the basics from helping you, and when you see they are able to take on more responsibility, you give it to them.   The 2 year-old pushes the basket in to the laundry room and loads the clothes.  Usually, she gets 1/2 of it in before "iz full mommy".  So I shove the rest in and she closes the door. I pour the soap and she pushes the buttons.  She moves it over and I give her the dryer sheet.  When dry, she pulls the warm clothes it into the basket and we take it to the couch where we sort and fold.  Gracie (6) and I fold and make piles for each of the drawers, while Anna matches socks and pulls out the unmentionables.  If I wanted to make a big deal and give them unlimited time, I can have Gracie do all the sorting.  It just takes a long time.  So usually I help. Sometimes I wait until they are in bed and sort/fold myself for them to discover in the morning.  Once piles are made, they open their drawers and take one piles to one drawer at a time.  At each step the girls are growing in competence to do the task themselves.

There are other such 'chores' and daily duties that kids can start doing at a much earlier age than we do.  Packing lunches is one of those.   When in 4th grade, Anthony declared that I was not giving him enough food in his lunchbox. I was also not giving him the stuff he really liked.  Now Anthony does not have a sweet tooth.  He would rather have milk or water to drink than anything else.  He isn't big on fruits or processed food or sugars.  His lunch of choice is left overs from the night before.  So I suggested (nicely I hope) that he should start making his own lunch.  And he jumped at the chance. Initially, I set the parameters - one fruit, one veggie whatever - and then checked up to make sure he is exercising good judgement.   Now I just spot check every once in a while.  If Anthony doesn't have enough to eat I am not to blame.  If he doesn't like it - not my fault!  In parenting we get blamed for enough as it is!

And more importantly he is learning a whole set of skills.  Is 4th grade too early to have a child pack his own lunch? No way!  JR (age 8) made his own lunch last night, although I often do it for him.  I know families that have the kids make their own lunches in kindergarden!  I think Anna will be able to do that in a few years after watching everyone else, but my middle two are needing a little more help than their big brother did.

I would say it is partly because they have dietary issues and are more limited, but really I think it is because I have fallen into the "it is easier to do it myself" rut.

You do realize the danger in that statement right? It is easier to do it myself.

It may be easier in the short term but never in the long run! I know it, but I am still muddling through this parenting stuff just like you.  It can be hard to break out of that rut.

What are the chores your kids should know how to do?

Clean their room - Picking up toys/clothes and putting them away.

Clean the bathrooms- A little cleaner and a cloth is all they need,  kids love washing down the counters or cleaning the mirrors.

Dusting - Spray the pledge on the cloth yourself and they will dust everything they can reach.

Clearing/washing dishes - we have the kids work as a team.  The eldest washes while the other clear and wipe down the table/counters.

Loading and unloading the dishwasher

Sweeping kitchen after meals

Sweeping the porch

Taking out the trash or recycling


Packing lunches

Cooking Basics - Teach them how to make a salad, how to cut properly, how to cook scrambled egg and toast, how to make mac-n-cheese.

Running the vacuum - You need to show them where the suction is so that they can be conscious of maintaing contact between that part of the vacuum and the floor, and of course warn them about the cord and sucking up toys/siblings etc.

I know some of you will be irritated that I didn't put ages next to the chores.  That is because each child is different.  By age 3 or 4 however, your kids can be at least helping with all of these.  Just break down the task into smaller parts that the child can do.  Provide the scaffolding to that they can grow in competence in that area.  Did you that by doing this you can actually help boost their self-esteem?  There are lots of easy ways like this to help boost their self-esteem.  The older ones may grumble a bit, but you are really helping them grow to be more independent and competent people! It also helps them to develop a spirit of service.

Now the question, do you pay them or not? More on that click here. 
Having a hard time motivating them to do anything? Click here.

Good Luck and thanks for stopping by!

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